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John C. Calhoun and the 

Secession Movement 

of 185^0 


Pmertcatt pnliquatian ^utititi 

John C. Calhoun and the 

Secession Movement 

of 18^0 




FOR April, 1918. 




The Davis Prebs 

Worcester, Mass. 



It has been truly said that "state rights apart 
from sectionalism have never been a serious hinderance 
to the progress of national unity"; on the other hand 
''sectionahsm is by its very nature incipient dis- 
union," as its ultimate goal is poHtical independence 
for a group of states. ^ Prior to the Civil War there 
were numerous instances of the assertion of state 
rights. Almost every state in the Union at some time 
declared its own sovereignty but on other occasions 
denounced as treasonable similar declarations by 
other states. Only, however, when the doctrine of 
state rights has been laid hold of as an effective 
shibboleth by some particular section of the country, 
to give an appearance of legality to its opposition to 
measures of the federal government, has the doctrine 
threatened the integrity of the Union. 

The great and outstanding sectional movement 
prior to the Civil War, which rallied under the banner 
of state rights, was due to the divergence of interests 
and views between the North and the South, caused 
by the growth of the institution of slavery. Indeed 
the increasing antagonism between the slave and free 
labor systems and States had revealed itself from time 
to time even in the first quarter of the Nation's 
history. Its sectionalizing tendency was reahzed 
by the time of the Missouri Compromise in 1820, and 
pointed out by several, but especially by Jefferson, 
when he wrote this oft-quoted passage, ''This mo- 

»An8on D. Morse in Political Science QxMTterlv, I, 158. 

mentous question, like a fire bell in the night, a- 
wakened and filled me with terror. I considered it 
at once the knell of the Union. ... A geographical 
line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and 
political, once conceived and held up to the angry- 
passions of men will never be obliterated, and every 
new irritation will make it deeper and deeper. "^ 

Although the tariff was the ostensible reason for 
the nullification movement in South Carolina, Calhoun 
admitted in a private letter in 1830 that it was but 
''the occasion, rather than the real cause of the 
present unhappy state of things. The truth can no 
longer be disguised that the peculiar domestic in- 
stitutions of the Southern States and the consequent 
direction which that and her soil and climate have 
given to her industry, has placed them in regard to 
taxation and appropriations in opposite relations to 
the majority of the Union; against the danger of 
which, if there be no protective power in the reserved 
rights of the States, they must in the end be forced 
to rebel or submit to having their permanent interests 

President Jackson also recognized slavery as the 
real issue. Following the settlement of the nullifica- 
tion controversy he wrote to a friend that "the 
tariff was only the pretext, and disunion and a 
southern confederacy the real object. The next 
pretext will be the negro or slavery question."* 

A striking and interesting example of the effect 
of environment and the sectionalizing movement 
on the thought and policy of a statesman is revealed 
in the public career of John C. Calhoun, whose name 
is more closely identified with state rights doctrines 
than that of any other public man prior to the Civil 

^Writings, X, 157. 

•Calhoun to Maxey, Sept. 11, 1830. Quoted in Bassett, Jackson, II, 547. 
^Letter of May 1, 1833 to Rev. Andrew J. Crawford, given in Congressional Globe- 
36 Cong., 2 Sesa., I, 32. 

In his early life he was conspicuous for his strong 
nationalism and his advocacy of a liberal construction 
of the constitution. John Quincy Adams' contemporary 
estimate of Calhoun as recorded in his Diary at this 
period is especially noteworthy. He writes, "He is 
above all sectional and factional prejudices more than 
any other statesman of this Union with whom I ever 
acted. "^ The causes which led to his change of 
views have been variously ascribed and doubtless 
always will be subject to discussion. It has been 
claimed by some of his contemporaries, as well as 
by some writers of more recent times, that he was 
led to give up his former views to identify himself 
with the nullificationists who had become the dom- 
inant political party in South Carolina in the late 
twenties, out of consideration for his future political 
career and by his burning ambition to become Presi- 
dent. While it must be admitted that Calhoun 
would not have been human if considerations for his 
political future had not had their weight, and that 
there is abundant evidence that, like his contempo- 
raries Clay and Webster, he had a laudable ambition 
for the Presidency, nevertheless we are loathe to 
accept the view that such crass and selfish motives 
could have been the dominating ones in the mind of 
so great and commanding a character. Rather are 
we inclined to the opinion already suggested that, 
as a true son of the South, he was affected by his 
environment. He became convinced that the econo- 
mic life of the South was destined to grow increasingly 
divergent from that of the North, and that the interests 
identified with and resulting from the institution of 
slavery would lead to its permanently being in the 
minority in the general government of the country. 
He, therefore, was led seriously to consider the 
means by which the peculiar interests of his section 
could be safe-guarded, while at the same time the 
Union, which he loved could be preserved. Hence 

^Memoirs, V, 361. 

he laid hold with eagerness upon the doctrine of 
nullification as the device by which the rights and 
interests of the minority were to be preserved in the 
Union. The theory was an attempt to devise a 
theoretical reconciliation between the most complete 
state sovereignty and the existence of a general 
government. Shortly after drafting the South Caro- 
lina Exposition of 1828, he writes to a private corre- 
spondent, "To preserve our Union on the fair basis of 
equality, on which alone it can stand, and to transmit 
the blessings of liberty to the remotest posterity is 
the first great object of all my exertions."® 

If this is a correct explanation of Calhoun's reason- 
ing, we can understand why the doctrine of nullifica- 
tion appealed to him; first, because it reconciled 
his devotion to the Union as well as to his state and 
section; and secondly, it enabled him honestly to 
declare, as he did declare, that it was the great 
conserving feature of our system of government.^ 
The right of secession, which, since the establishment 
of the government under the Constitution, had been 
held from time to time in the North as well as in 
the South as a theoretical possibility, was reserved 
by Calhoun's Exposition as a last resort. 

The acceptance of the view just advanced of 
Calhoun's motives will go far in explaining his 
subsequent course. Although he championed south- 
ern interests, he restrained the radicals of his state 
and section for nearly two decades longer, until at 
last he became convinced that the interests of the 
two sections were so irreconcilable that the Union 
ought not to be preserved except at the price of 
specific constitutional concessions.^ Apparently, the 
year 1847 marks the date when Calhoun, alarmed by 
the aggressiveness of the northern advocates of the 

•Calhoun's Correspondence, American Historical Association Report, 1899, 11,269- 

'Calhoun, Works, VI, 50, 123. 

'Beverley Tucker's letter, March 25, 1850. William and Mary Quarterly, XVIII, 46. 
See Tpost. 

Wilmot Proviso, deemed it high time to arouse the 
South "to calculate the value of the Union." In a 
private letter, dated March 19, 1847, he writes, 
"The time has come when it (the slavery question) 
must be brought to a final decision."^ 

The part that Calhoun played in the sectional 
agitation during the next three years, the last of his 
life, and especially his part in launching and promoting 
the project for a Southern Convention, as also the 
history of the movement for such a Convention of the 
Southern States, which was to demand protection 
for the rights of that section in the Union, or to 
concert measures for secession from the Union, is 
the theme of the remainder of this paper. The idea 
of a Southern Convention, however, was not new.^" 
It had been proposed as early as 1844, both at the 
time of the Texas agitation and in connection with 
the tariff agitation of that year. The project at 
that time found considerable support in South 
Carolina both in the press and with the public, as 
fiery and radical speeches, resolutions, and toasts 
threatening disunion testify. The Hon. R. Barnwell 
Rhett, Calhoun's colleague in the United States 
Senate, especially championed the measure. The 
movement, however, met with general opposition in 
the other Southern States and Calhoun and his 
friends opposed it, favoring a more astute policy and 
awaiting the results of the Presidential election. 
The resulting election of Polk led to the abandonment 
of the project, even by its former advocates. 

The demand of the North that slavery should be 
excluded from all the new territory that it was 
expected would be acquired as a result of the Mexican 
War revived the sectional issue. Calhoun now takes 

•Correspondence, 720. See also letter to a naember of the Alabama Legislature, 
Benton, Thirty Years View, II, 698. 

loLouisiana.February 20,1837,had proposed one "to determine the best possible means 
to obtain peaceably if they can, forcibly if they must, that respect for their institutions 
to which they are entitled by the enactments of the Federal compact," etc. Act* of 
Louisiana, 1837, 18, 19. 


the lead. Following the adoption of the Wilmot 
Proviso by the House of Representatives for the 
second time, on February 15, 1847, he delivered a 
speech in the Senate in which he denounced the 
Proviso and summoned the South to repudiate 
compromise and stand upon her rights. At the same 
time he presented a set of resolutions containing a 
new doctrine that Congress can impose no restriction 
upon slavery in the territories.^^ They became known 
as "the Platform of the South." Although these 
resolutions were not pressed to a vote, the principles 
underlying them were generally adopted by the 
southern Democrats, and soon found expression in 
the resolutions of several of the Southern State 
legislatures, notably by Virginia, which was the first 
to adopt them. ^2 Apparently, Calhoun was fully 
convinced that it was high time that something should 
be done to unite the South in order to preserve her 
interests in the Union. In a private letter of this 
period he wrote that instead of shunning, we ought 
to court the issue with the North on the slavery 
question. I would even go one step further, and add 
that it is our duty due to ourselves, to the Union and 
our political institutions to force the issue on the 
North. "15 

Partially abandoning his previous policy of re- 
straining the radicals in South Carolina, he threw 
himself into the movement to arouse the people. On 
his return from Washington early in March, he was 
greeted with great enthusiasm by the Mayor and 
Council of Charleston and a mass meeting of the 
citizens. This meeting, after listening to Calhoun's 
plea for the union of the South on the slavery issue 
regardless of party ties, adopted a strong report and 
resolutions similar to those that he had presented 
in Congress. 1* 

"Calhoun, Works, IV, 339-349. 
i^March 8, 1847, Acts of Virginia, 1846-47, 236. 
"Benton, Thirty Years View, II, 698. 

"Calhoun's Speech, March 9, 1847, Works, IV, 382-396; Niles' Register, LXII, 
73-75; Calhoun, Correspondence, 718, 720; McMaster, VII, 486-489, 494-495. 

Some both in and out of the State suspected that 
Calhoun was playing politics-^^ President Polk in 
particular held this view. Following the former's 
efforts to secure the signatures of prominent south- 
erners to an address to the people of the United 
States on the subject of slavery and the making of 
this question a test in the next Presidential election, 
Polk records his condemnation in his Diary under 
date of April 6, 1847. "Mr. Calhoun has become 
perfectly desperate in his aspiration to the Presidency, 
and has seized upon this sectional question as the 
only means of sustaining himself in his present fallen 
condition, and that such an agitation of the slavery 
question was not only unpatriotic and mischievous, 
but wicked. I now entertain a worse opinion of 
Mr. Calhoun than I have ever done before. He is 
wholly selfish, and I am satisfied has no patriotism. 
A few years ago he was the author of nullification and 
threatened to dissolve the Union on account of the 
tariff. During my administration the reduction of 
duties which he desired has been obtained, and he 
can no longer complain. No sooner is this done than 
he selects slavery upon which to agitate the country, 
and blindly mounts the topic as a hobby. "^' 

Calhoun's suggestion was not sufficiently encour- 
aged, so the proposed address was not issued at this 
time. The presidential campaign of 1848 led to a 
postponement of the issue. Calhoun endeavored to 
maintain a neutral position during the contest. His 
correspondence for the year 1848, however, shows 
that he was carefully considering the utility of a 
Southern Convention. In a speech delivered in 

i^See note, next page. 

uDiary, II, 458-9. James H. Hammond writes to W. G. Simms, March 21, 1847. 
that he has just read Calhoun's Charleston speech. His object is to gain Southern 
votes for himself for President. Every one in S. Carolina will see this. It will be said 
that he agitates the slavery question for selfish purposes—" South Carolina under present 
auspices can do nothing if she puts herself foremost but divide the South and insure 
disastrous defeat." Hammond Manuscript, Vol. 13, Library of Congress. For this 
and other references to the Hammond collection, 1 am indebted to Mr. PhUip M. Hamer. 
a member of the Graduate School, University of Pennsylvania. 


Charleston, August 20, he intimated more clearly 
than in any previous public utterance that the 
question of southern union and secession might soon 
be a vital one.^^ The press and public meetings 
throughout the State favored resistance and some 
urged that South Carolina should take the lead in 
calling a Southern Convention. As will appear later, 
Calhoun, while sympathizing with the movement, 
believed for reasons of expediency it should be initiated 
in one of the other states, and so he exercised to some 
extent a restraining influence. On the assembling 
of the legislature in November of 1848, Governor 
Johnson in his message, while stating that the present 
time, owing to the election of Taylor, a Southern man 
as President was not propitious for action, declared 
that ''unity of time and concert of action are indis- 
pensable to success, and a Southern Convention is 
the most direct and practical means of obtaining 
it. "^^ The legislature on December 15, after a visit 
of Calhoun to Columbia, on his way to Washington, ^^ 
unanimously adopted resolutions which were apparent- 
ly in harmony with his wishes. These declared 
"that the time for discussion had passed, and that 
this General Assembly is prepared to co-operate with 
her sister states in resisting the application of the 
principles of the Wilmot Proviso to such territory 
at any and all hazard. "^^ 

On the re-opening of Congress after the election of 
1848, Calhoun renewed his effort to secure the issuing 
of a Southern Address, this time with more success, 
as the situation in Washington favored his project 

"'Speech in Charleston, New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, August 28, 1848. Toombs 
writes Crittenden, September 27, 1847, "Calhoun stands off too, in order to make a 
Southern party all his own on slavery in the new Territories. Poor old dotard, to suppose 
he could get a party now on any terms! Hereafter treachery itself will not trust him." 
Correspondence of Toombs, Stephens, and Cobb, American Historical Association 
Report, 1911, II, 129. 

"November 27, 1848, J^ournaJ of Senate of S. Carolina, 1848, 26; Nilea' Register, 
LXXIV, 368; Calhoun, Correspondence, 1184. 

^*South Carolina Senate Journal, 1848, 61. 

*^Report and Resolutions of South Carolina, 1848, 147. 


inasmuch as the slavery question had re-appeared in 
Congress in several different measures. The sec- 
tionalizing effect of the renewed agitation soon 
revealed itself. As a result of this, and of Calhoun's 
labors, a gathering of sixty-nine Southern members 
of Congress, drawn from both parties, assembled 
on the evening of December 23, 1848, to determine 
upon a common policy for the South. Calhoun and 
the radical Democrats directed the movement. It 
was commonly believed in Washington, wrote Horace 
Mann, ''that Mr. Calhoun was resolved on a dis- 
solution of the Union. "21 The attempt was made to 
unite the representatives of both parties, but it failed 
of success. President Polk threw the weight of his 
influence against it. It soon appeared that the Whigs 
had only entered the conference in order to try to 
control or defeat the movement.^^ "An Address of 
the Southern Delegates in Congress to their Con- 
stituents" was drafted by Calhoun, in which he 
arraigned_ the North for their infraction of the 
Constitution in regard to fugitive slaves and their 
general course relative to slavery. It denied that 
Congress had any jurisdiction over slavery in the 
territories, and it called upon the South to unite, to 
subordinate party ties, and to prepare to protect 
Itself. ''If you become united, " it read, "and prove 
yourself in earnest, the North will be brought to 
pause, and to a calculation of consequences; and 
that may lead to a change of measures and to the 
adoption of a course of policy that may quietly and 
peaceably terminate this long conflict between the 
two sections. If it should not, nothing would remain 
for you but to stand up immovably in defence of 
rights involving your all, your property, prosperity, 
equality, liberty, and safety. "23 

*>Lt/c and Works of Horace Mann, 273. 
"See Letters of Toombs to John J. Cr 
ort, 1911, II, 139, 141. 

MCalhoun, Works, VI, 290-313; Niles, LXXV, 84-88. 

«See Letters of Toombs to John J. Crittenden, American Historical Association Re- 
port, 1911, II, 139, 141. 


But the Whigs were not prepared to abandon their 
party affiliations. As Toombs wrote Crittenden, 
"We had a regular flare up in the last meeting, and 
at the call of Calhoun I told them briefly what we 
were at. I told him (Calhoun) that the union of the 
South was neither possible nor desirable until we were 
ready to dissolve the Union. That we certainly did 
not intend to advise the people now to look any where 
else than to their own government for the prevention 
of apprehended evils. "^^ Alexander H. Stephens 
tried to prevent action by the caucus, but failed in 
this. An attempt to substitute an address drawn by 
Senator Berrien, directed to the "People of the whole- 
Country" and appealing to the patriotism and 
fairness of the North, failed by a small margin^^ 
and the Calhoun Address slightly modified was 
adopted and issued on January 22, 1849, but only 
two Whigs were numbered among its forty-eight 
signers. Only about one third of the southern repre- 
sentatives signed. 

Owing to the attitude of the Whigs, the effect of 
the address was greatly weakened. In fact Toombs 
declared "We have completely foiled Calhoun in 
his miserable attempt to form a Southern Party. "^^ 
Calhoun, however, in a letter to his daughter two 
days after the Address was issued, expressed satis- 
faction. He writes, "My address was adopted by a 
decided majority. ... It is a decided triumph 
under the circumstances. The administration threw 
all its weight against us, and added it to the most 

rabid of the Whigs The South is more 

aroused than I ever saw it on the subject."" Polk's 
Diary bears out Calhoun's statement of the admin- 
istration's hostility to their movement. The Presi- 
dent records an interview with Calhoun on January 

2<Coleman, Life of John J. Crittenden, I, 335-336. 
«iVi7es, LXXV, 101-104. 
"Coleman, Crittenden, I, 335. 
^Correspondence, 762. 


^j 16, 184^, and notes, "He (Calhoun) proposed no 
/ plan of adjusting the difficulty (territorial), but 
insisted that the aggression of the North upon the 
South should be resisted and that the time had come 
for action. I became perfectly satisfied that he did 
not desire that Congress should settle the question 
at the present session and that he desired to influence 
the North upon the subject, whether from personal 
or patriotic views it is not difficult to determine. 
I was firm and decided in my conversation with him, 
intending to let him understand distinctly that I 
gave no countenance to any movement which tended 
to violence or the disunion of the states, "^s 

Just before the final meeting of the caucus, Polk 
was so disturbed that he conferred with his Cabinet 
on the matter and informed them that he "thought 
it was wholly unjustifiable for southern members of 
Congress, when a fair prospect was presented of 
settling the whole question, to withhold their co- . 
operation, and instead of aiding in effecting such an 
adjustment, to be meeting in a sectional caucus and 
publishing an address to influence the country." 
"I added," he records, "that I feared there were a 
few southern men who had become so excited that 
they were indifferent to the preservation of the 
Union." "I stated that I put my face alike against 
southern agitators and northern fanatics and should 
do everything in my power to allay excitement by 
adjusting the question of slavery and preserving the 
Union. "29 It was agreed that each member of the 
Cabinet should be active in seeing members of 
Congress, and urge them to support the bill to admit 
California at once as a state. Polk promised to use 
his influence with members, and records in his Diary: 
— "This is an unusual step for the Executive to take, 
but the emergency demands it. It may be the only 
means of allaying a fearful sectional excitement and 

"Diarj/, IV, 288. 
'•Dtorj/, IV, 299. 


of preserving the Union, and therefore I think upon 
high public consideration it is justified."^" 

Through the administration's influence, some of the 
Democrats joined the southern Whigs in refusing 
to support the address, yet the South Carolina legis- 
lature, as previously stated, had declared that it 
was prepared to co-operate with other Southern 
States in resisting the extension of the Wilmot Proviso 
to the new territory. In the course of the next few 
weeks, the Democratic legislatures in Virginia, Florida, 
and Missouri adopted resolutions of similar tenor, 
and even the Whig legislature of North Carolina 
joined in denouncing the proposed restrictive legisla- 
tion and suggested the extension of the Missouri 
Compromise line to the new territory. ^^ Virginia 
took more radical action by providing for a special 
session of the legislature, should Congress pass the 
obnoxious laws. In several of the other states, 
although there was no legislative action, there was a 
renewal of popular agitation. While the sentiment 
in both Georgia and Alabama was divided on the 
Southern Address, the Wilmot Proviso was emphati- 
cally condemned by both political parties. In Georgia, 
Governor Town, who had declared himself in favor 
of resisting the Wilmot Proviso to the limit, was re- 
elected, and the Democrats gained control of the 
legislature for the first time in several years. In 
Alabama the Democrats also made substantial gains. 
Moreover, Mississippi, as we shall presently see, 
took up with zeal the proposal for the Southern 

Calhoun had not ventured in the "Address of the 
Southern Delegates" to explicitly propose a Southern 
Convention, but we know he had entertained the 
possibility of one for some time. More than a year 
previously he had stated in a confidential letter that 

*0Diary, IV, 300. 

*'iSenate Misc., 30 Congress, 2 session, I, Nos. 48, 51, II, Nos. 54, 58; Senate Misc., 
31 Congress, 1 session, I, No. 24. 


such a Convention was "indispensable."'^ Within 
a few weeks after the southern caucus, his personal 
correspondence to poHtical friends in several states 
shows that he was actively, although quietly, urging 
the idea of a southern Convention and outlining the 
plan of action. Thus we find him writing to John H. 
Means, shortly afterward chosen Governor of South 
Carolina. ''I am of the impression that the time 
is near at hand when the South will have to choose 
between disunion and submission. I think so, because 
I see little prospect of arresting the aggression of the 
North. If any thing can do it, it would be for the 
South to present with an unbroken front to the North 
the alternative of dissolving the partnership or of 
ceasing on their part to violate our rights. . . . But 
it will be impossible to present such a front, except 
by means of a Convention of Southern States. That, 
and that only could speak for the whole, and present 
authoritatively to the North the alternative, which to 
choose. If such a presentation should fail to save 
the Union, by arresting the aggression of the North 
and causing our rights and the stipulation of the 
Constitution in our favor to be respected, it would 
afford proof conclusive that it could not be saved, 
and that nothing was left us, but to save ourselves. 
Having done all we could to save the Union, we would 
then stand justified before God and man to dissolve 
a partnership which had proved inconsistent with 
our safety, and, of course, destructive of the object 
which mainly induced us to enter into it. Viewed 
in this hght, a Convention of the South is an indis- 
pensable means to discharge a great duty we owe to 
our partners in the Union: that is, to warn them in 
the most solemn manner that if they do not desist 
from aggressions and cease to disregard our rights 
and stipulations of the Constitution, the duty we 
owe to ourselves and our posterity would compel us 

»«Benton, Thirty Years View, II, 698-700. Letter of Wilson Lumkin to Calhoun, 
November 18, 1847. Correspondence, 1135-1139. 


to dissolve forever the partnership with them. But 
should its warning voice fail to save the Union, it 
would in that case prove the most efficient of all 
means for saving ourselves. "^^ 

Scarcely more than a month after this letter was 
written, in accordance with a plan privately suggested 
by Calhoun, and publicly favored by district and 
parish meetings in various parts of South Carolina, 
a Convention of delegates assembled at Columbia, 
May 14-15, 1849. After approving the Southern 
Address and the action of the state government, it 
called for a special session of the legislature to take 
action in case any of the proposed obnoxious legis- 
lation should be passed by Congress. This Convention 
also appointed five prominent men as a Central Com- 
mittee of Vigilance and Safety to correspond with 
the other states to promote concert of action, and to 
perfect the organization of the state — thus fully 
accepting Calhoun's program.^'* 

It was desired, however, that some state other 
than South Carolina should take the lead. Miss- 
issippi was the first to respond under the stimulus 
of Mr. Calhoun's letters.^^ In May, 1849, an in- 
formal meeting of prominent citizens was held at 
Jackson to protest against southern exclusion from 
the territories. This gathering issued a call for the 
voters of the several counties to choose delegates to 
a State Convention to be held at Jackson in October 
'Ho consider the threatening relations between the 
North and the South." A copy of their resolutions 
was sent to Mr. Calhoun with the request that he 
advise the promoters of the movement the proper 
course for the Convention to take. Calhoun replied 
in a letter addressed to Col. C. S. Tarpley, dated 
July 9, 1849, outlining the course that it was desirable 

"Calhoun to John H. Means, Correspondence, 765, 7C6. 

»*National Era, May 24, 1849. National Intelligencer, May 24 and 26, 1849. 
«D. T. Herndon in Alabama Hist. Society Transactions, V, 204-208; Cleo Hearon in 
Publications of Miss. Hist. Society, XIV, ch. II and III. 


to take. His letter was in part as follows:'* "In 
my opinion there is but one thing that holds out the 
promise of saving both ourselves and the Union: 
and that is a Southern Convention; and that, if 
much longer delayed, cannot. It ought to have been 
held this fall, and ought not to be delayed beyond 
another year; all our movements ought to look to 
that result. For that purpose every southern state 
ought to be organized, with a central committee and 
one in each county. Ours is already. It is indis- 
pensable to produce concert and prompt action. 
In the meantime, firm and resolute resolutions ought 
to be adopted by yours and such meetings as may 
take place before the assembling of the legislature 
in the fall. They, when they meet, ought to take up 
the subject in the most solemn and impressive manner. 
''The great object of a Southern Convention should 
be, to put forth in a solemn manner the causes of our 
grievances in an address to other states, and to 
admonish them, in a solemn manner, of the conse- 
quences which must follow, if they should not be 
redressed, and to take measures preparatory to it, 
in case they should not be. The call should be 
addressed to all those who are desirous to save the 
Union and our institutions, and who, in the alter- 
native, should it be forced on us, of submission or 
dissolving the partnership, would prefer the latter. 
No state could better take the lead in this great 
conservative movement than yours. " Calhoun wrote 
a similar letter to Senator Henry S. Foote, August 
2, 1849," to which Foote replied a few days before 
the Mississippi Convention met, stating, "I am 
gratified to have it within my power to inform you 
that several leading gentlemen of both the two great 
political parties in Mississippi have promised me at 

•»" r/ie Southron," Jackson, Miss., published Mr. Calhoun's letter May 24, 1850. 
Copied in National Daily Intelligencer, June 4, 1850, iiUo Cong. Globe, 32 Cong. 1 «m«. 
Appendix 52. 

"National Era, June 12, 1851. 


our approaching convention to act upon your sug- 
gestion relative to the recommendation of a Southern 
Convention. "^^ 

His suggestions were expHcitly followed. The 
State formally took the lead, a central committee 
was organized and local committees were appointed 
in the counties, ''firm and determined resolutions" 
were adopted by the October Convention. These 
condemned the policy of Congress, and appointed a 
committee of seven which issued "An Address to the 
Southern States," inviting them to send delegates 
to a Convention to be held at Nashville, June 3, 1850, 
"with the view and the hope of arresting the course 
of aggression, and, if not practicable then to concen- 
trate the South in will and understanding, and action," 
"and as the possible ultimate resort the call by the 
legislatures of the assailed States of still more solemn 
Conventions, — to deliberate, speak, and act with 
all the sovereign power of the people. Should, in 
the result, such Conventions be called and held, 
they may look to a like regularly constituted con- 
vention of all the assailed States, to provide in the 
last resort for their separate welfare, by the formation 
of a compact and a union that will afford protection 
to their liberties and their rights. "^^ 

Calhoun's connection with the movement was not 
generally known but was suspected.^" Following 

"Letter of September 25, 1S49, Calhoun, Correspondence, 1204. See also letter 
from A. Hutchinson to Calhoun of October 5, 1849. Ibid, 1206. 

"For address and resolutions, Congressional Globe, 31, Cong. I, Sess., I, 578; 579, 942, 

^oSenator Foote in a speech February 8, 1850, denied that the Mississippi movement 
was instigated by South Carolina. Congressional Globe. 31 Cong. 1 sess. Appendix 
100. In December, 1851, however, he acknowledged "that it was through me, in the 
first instance that Mr. Calhoun succeeded in instigating the incipient movement in 
Mississippi, which led to the calling of the Nashville Convention." Ibid, 32 Cong. 
1 sess. Appendix, 52. A fewdayslaterhestated that he had not known of Mr. Calhoun's 
letter to Mr. Tarpley and to others until recently, and added "the letters that I have 
seen, according generally with this one (Tarpley) satisfied my mind that the modus 
operandi of the Convention was more or less marked out by his great intellect. " Cong. 
Globe, 32 Cong. 1 sess. 134-135. 

Daniel Wallace was sent by Governor Seabrook of South Carolina as a special agent 
to attend the Mississippi Convention. In a confidential letter he reports that he noted 
there the influence of "our own old statesman. " (Calhoun). See Report of D. Wallace, 
Special Agent from South Carolina to Mississippi, in collection of letters of W. B. Sea- 
brook in the Library of Congress. For Wallace's denial that he was an agent of South 
Carolina, see references cited by A. C. Cole. The South and the Right of Secession, in 
Mississippi Valley Historical Review, I, 377, note 2. 


his speech in Congress, March 4, 1850, just before 
his death, it was asserted. Thus the Fayetteville, 
(N. C.) Observer declared: ''The proposition to hold 
such a convention was first authoritatively made in 
Mississippi. But we presume nobody is so green as 
to imagine that it originated there. No, we have 
no shadow of doubt that the action of Mississippi 
was prompted from South Carolina, and now in 
Mr. Calhoun's speech we have a revelation of the 
purpose for which the Convention is to assemble. 
It is to demand impracticable and impossible con- 
cessions, with no hope of their being granted, and 
with a purpose and declaration that if not granted 
the South will secede from the Union." His letter 
to Colonel Tarpley was not made public until after 
his death, shortly before the assembhng of the 
Nashville Convention. 

Calhoun followed the progress of events with great 
interest and urged his correspondents in Georgia, 
Alabama, and South Carolina to see that their states 
supported the Mississippi movement."^ He writes 
James H. Hammond, "As to myself, I lose no oppor- 
tunity, when I can act with propriety, to give the 

great cause an impulse I have made it a 

point to throw off no one. Let us be one is my advice 

to all parties in the South The time for 

action has come. If the South is to be saved, now 
is the time. "^2 

His own State Government was the first to respond. 
Governor Seabrook's message to the legislature, 
when it assembled the last of November (1849) 
reviewed the slavery agitation. He predicted that 
''the enactment of any one of the contemplated 
measures of hostility would probably, if not certainly, 
result in severing the political ties that now unite 
us the South has at last been aroused from 

t^Correspondence, 762, 769, 773, 775, 77S. Letters to Calhoun, Ibid, 1195, 1196, 
1199-1202, 1210-1212. 

"Letter of January 4, 1850, Correspondence, 779. 


its criminal lethargy to a knowledge of the dangers 
of its position. For the first time in our political 
history, party affinities are becoming merged in the 
high obligation of co-operation for the sake of safety, 
or for participation in a common fate." He con- 
cluded by recommending the Southern Convention 
as proposed by the people of Mississippi. This 
recommendation was endorsed by the legislature, 
meeting as a caucus, December 12, 1849, and the 
election of delegates was provided for.^^ They also 
adopted the measures recommended by the May 

Calhoun's fondest hope for the union of the men 
of the South of both political parties seemed about 
to be realized. Whigs vied with Democrats in 
declaring that southern rights were in universal 
danger, and that only a united and bold front would 
prevent the enactment of measures that would force 
the disruption of the Union. Southern men and the 
southern press were even seriously considering the 
value of the Union and the advantages of its dis- 

On the assembling of Congress in December of 
1849, Alexander H. Stephens of Georgia, a leading 
southern Whig wrote "I find the feehng among the 
southern members for a dissolution of the Union — 
if the anti-slavery measures should be pressed to 
extremity — is becoming more general than at first. 
Men are now beginning to talk of it seriously, who, 
twelve months ago, hardly permitted themselves 
to think of it. "^^ Calhoun a little later wrote, 
"The southern members are more determined and 
bold than I ever saw them. Many avow themselves 
to be disunionists, and a still greater number admit 
that there is little hope for any remedy short of it. "^^ 

**The Tri-Weekly South Carolinian, December 8, 1849. 
"Johnson and Brown, Life of Alexander H. Stephens, 239. 

"January 12, 1850, Calhoun, Correspondence, 780, also December 8, 31, 1849; Ibid, 
776, 778. 


Similar opinions were expressed in many southern 
papers. The Richmond Enquirer of February 12 
declared, ''The two great political parties of the 
country have ceased to exist in the Southern States, 
so far as the present slavery issue is concerned. 
United they will prepare, consult, combine, for prompt 
and decisive action. With united voices — we are 
compelled to make a few exceptions — they proclaim, 
in the language of the Virginia resolution, passed a 
day since, the preservation of the Union if we can, 
the preservation of our own rights if we cannot. 
This is the temper of the South; this is the temper 
becoming the inheritors of rights acquired for freemen 
by the hand of freemen. 'Thus far shalt thou come, 
and no farther,' or else the proud waves of Northern 
aggression shall float the wreck of the Constitution. "^« 
A communication in the Columbia (S. C.) Telegraph, 
February 15, 1850, reads: "My idea is, first, to 
perfect the Union of the South, now so happily in 
progress. A year ago I thought the South was 
doomed, it seemed so dead to the true situation, 
mouthing after the lessons of miserable demagogues 
the sounding devices of party. But that day is 
past. There are no more Whigs, no more Democrats 
—there is but one party, 'The party of the South.' 
The South is aroused, her banner is on the outer 
wall, and the cry is still 'they come, they come,' 
'Let the good work go on.' Second, to dissolve the 
Union immediately, form a Southern Confederacy, 
and the possession by force of most of all the territories 
suitable for slavery, which would include all south of 
the northern latitude of Missouri."''^ 

Even The Richmond Republican, a conservative 
Whig paper, said editorially, "We are afraid these 
men will find the South is in earnest when it is too 

late It is melancholy to contemplate such 

a state of things; for whatever Northern citizens 

"Quoted in National Intelligencer, February 16, 1850. 
•'Quoted in National Intelligencer, February 21, 1850. 


may believe, or affect to believe, every Southern man 

knows that to persist in those measures which form 

the principal point of Northern policy upon the 

subject of slavery, will result in a dissolution of the 
Union, "''s 

Robert Toombs, a Whig representative from Geor- 
gia, wrote ''When I came to Washington, I found the 
whole Whig party expecting to pass the Proviso, and 
Taylor would not veto it .... I saw General 
Taylor, and talked fully with him, and while he 
stated he had given and would give no pledges either 
way about the Proviso, he gave me clearly to under- 
stand that if it was passed he would sign it. My 
course instantly became fixed. I would not hesitate 
to oppose the Proviso, even to the extent of a dis- 
solution of the Union. "^^ He, therefore, believed 
that the Whigs should join with the southern Demo- 
crats in presenting a determined resistance to this 
obnoxious measure. 

Stephens's letters from December to early in 
February show a similar determination as well as 
despair of the preservation of the Union. Thus he 
writes his brother on January 21: "I see no hope 
to the South from the Union. I do not believe 
much in resolutions, anyway. I am a good deal 
like Troup in this particular. If I were now in the 
legislature, I should introduce bills reorganizing 
the militia, for the establishment of a military school 
the encouragement of the formation of volunteer 
companies, the creation of arsenals, of an armory, 
and an establishment for making gunpowder. In 
these lies our defence. I tell you the argument is 
exhausted, and if the South does not intend to be 
overrun with anti-slavery doctrines, they must, before 
no distant day, stand by their arms. My mind is 
made up; I am for the fight, if the country will back 
me. And if not, we had better have no 'Resolutions' 

''Quoted in National Intelligencer, February 2, 1850. 

♦»Coleman. Li/e of John J. Crittenden, 365, letter dated April 25, 1850. 


and no gasconade. They will but add to our degrada- 
tion."^" The National Intelligencer, a Whig paper 
published in Washington, in the leading editorial 
February 2, entitled, "The Evil of the Day," confirmed 
this view of the attitude of the southern Whigs. 
"What is most alarming of all," it declared, "is the 
fact that gentlemen who have ever heretofore been 
most conservative and even thoroughly Whig are 
to be found still more excited than those who have 
been habitually railers against the North, and under- 
valuers of the Union. " 

In the meantime the movement for the Nashville 
Convention was taken up in the other southern 
legislatures as they assembled. The legislatures of 
Virginia, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, 
Texas, and Arkansas voted respectively that their 
states would be represented, but not without 
opposition in some states, and considerable difference 
of opinion in regard to the methods to be employed 
for the choice of delegates. In general, the Whigs 
desired election by the people, the Democrats by the 
legislature. As a result there were a variety of 
methods adopted. 

In some states all the delegates were chosen by the 
legislature, in others a part were so chosen to represent 
the state at large, and the remainder by the district 
system. In a few states, where the choice was left 
to the people it resulted in only a partial representa- 
tion as was true of Virginia, Texas, and Arkansas. 
The legislature of Tennessee, Louisiana and several 
of the border states refused to indorse the Convention, 
and from only one of these, Tennessee, were any repre- 
sentatives present at Nashville." Four of the state 
legislatures, namely, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, 
and Virginia also authorized the calling of a state 
Convention in case the Wilmot^ Proviso or similar 

.ojohnson and Brown. Stephens, 245. See also letter of February 13. 1850 to Jas. 
Thomas, American Hist. Assoc. Report, 1911, II, 184. „,. tvt ». 

MCole. The Whig Party in the South, 158-162, 170-171. D. T. Hemdon, The Nash- 
ville Convention of 1850, in Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, V. il,i-^lb. 


obnoxious measures were adopted by Congress. 
Mississippi added an appropriation of $220,000 as a 
contingency fund. 

From the moment of the introduction of Clay's 
resolutions, the southern Whig sentiment began to 
change, and it was soon evident that the majority 
of their numbers were ready to accept the admission 
of California, if the Wilmot Proviso was not applied 
to the rest of the Mexican cession. It was otherwise 
with the southern Democrats. On the 4th of March, 
Calhoun's speech, the last great effort of his life, was 
presented to the Senate. ^^ The scene was a dramatic 
one. The knowledge that the veteran statesman 
and great champion of southern rights was to emerge 
from his sick room to present his views on the crisis 
of the hour was sufficient to crowd the Senate Cham- 
ber. Too ill to deliver the speech himself, it was 
read by Senator Mason of Virginia. Calhoun, pale 
and emaciated sat with eyes partially closed, 
listening to the delivery of his last appeal and solemn 
warning. ''A sombre hue pervaded the whole 
speech," wrote Senator Cass. It was, indeed, clear 
that the author, conscious of his approaching end, 
was oppressed with anxious forebodings of the dis- 
ruption of the Union. He declared that the Com- 
promise proposed could not save the Union. This 
could be done only by the North giving to the South 
equal rights in the territories, by ceasing to agitate 
the slavery question and by consenting to an amend- 
ment to the Constitution which would restore to the 
South the power to protect herself. The amendment 
as explained in a posthumous essay provided for the 
election of two Presidents, one from each section, 
each to have a veto on all legislation.^^ 

This extreme demand did not command the support 
of the southern Whigs, and Webster's ''Seventh of 
March Speech" did much to reassure them,^^ and the 

"Congressional Globe, 31 Cotig. 1 Sess., I, 451-455; Works, IV, 542-573. 
"A Discourse on the Constitution and Government of the United States. 


southern press in general applauded it; while many 
condemned Calhoun's remedy as impracticable. Thus 
the Virginia Free Press declares: ''The necessity 
of the Convention, if it ever existed is now at an end. 
Since the delivery of Mr. Webster's speech 
the great body of the people feel a confidence that the 
agitating and exciting question of the day will be 
amicably settled and the clouds which lately lowered 
so darkly over the Union will be dispelled.^^ Even 
the radical Charleston Mercury says: ''With such a 
spirit as Mr. Webster has shown, it no longer seems 
impossible to bring this sectional contest to a close, 
and we feel now, or the first time since Congress 
met, a hope that it may be adjusted.^^ The New 
Orleans Bee declared that "the public sentiment of 
nine-tenths of the people of the South will rebuke 
the opinion of Mr. Calhoun and stamp it as calumny 
upon the slave holding part of the community."" 
The change in the attitude of the press in regard to 
the Nashville Convention was general, but particu- 
larly marked in the case of the Whig papers. The 
Wilmington Chronicle states that of sixty papers 
from ten slave-holding states from Maryland to 
Louisiana, not more than one quarter take decided 
ground for a Southern Convention. "The rest are 
either strongly opposed to it, doubt its utility or are 
silent on the subject. "^« The Jackson (Mississippi) 
Southron had at first supported the movement, but 
by March it had grown luke-warm and before the 
Convention assembled, decidedly opposed to it. 
The last of May it said, "not a Whig paper m the 

MToombsin letter of March 22, 1850 to Linton Stephenawrote:— " We have a tolerable 
prospect for a proper settlement of the slavery question. I should think it a strong 
prospect if it were not that the Calhoun wing of the South seem to desire no settlement 
and may perhaps go against any adjustment which would likely pass. Amerxcan 
Historical Association Report, 1911, II, 188. 

ii National Intelligencer, March 18 and 23. 


"National Intelligencer, March 11. 

''^National Intelligencer, March 19. 


state approves. "^^ The Savannah Republican early 
in the year seemed to be in doubt what course to 
recommend; by the latter part of March it had grown 
fearful "that evil men may use it for their own 
purposes," especially so since Calhoun's speech. 
By the end of May it pronounces against such a 
sectional assembly pending the action of Congress.^" 

On the other hand leading Democrats and several 
of the influential party papers tried to check the 
rising tide of union sentiment and to urge the Con- 
vention forward. A meeting of southern Senators 
was held in Washington on April 16th, at which all 
except four were present. They unanimously recog- 
nized the importance of the Convention being held." 
The Columbus Sentinel (Georgia) declared "Let the 
Convention be held and let the undivided voice of 
the South go forth, .... from the deliberations 
of that Convention, declaring our determination to 
resist even to civil war, and we shall then and not 
till then hope for a respectful recognition of our 
equality and rights. "^^ 

In South Carolina many declared openly in favor of 
secession. Thus the Fairfield Herald of May 1 
states its views: "The time for the Southern Con- 
vention is nigh at hand, and with its approach con- 
flicting opinions harass the mind. The question has 
been frequently asked, with all seriousness, what will 
be the probable action of the Convention? We have 
hoped, and we still desire, that the Convention will 
assume a decided position and declare to the North 
that there is a line established beyond which, if they 
dare trespass, a revolution shall be the consequence. 
Further than this, we anxiously pray that the Con- 
vention may entertain the proposition of the formation 
of a Southern Confederacy. The Union, as it now 

"Compare Southron, September 21, October 5, 1849, March 11, 15, 22, April 5, 19, 
May 24, 31, June 7, 1850. 

ioSamnnah Republican, March 21, 22, May 20, 1850. 
*^M ontgomery Advertiser, April 16, 1850. 
**National Intelligencer, March 11. 


exists, has proved a curse and not a blessing. It 
has been made the means of catering to northern 
taste and inclinations, robbing from the southern 
planter his pittance to pander to the craving pro- 
pensities of northern leeches. In the language of 
the Wilmington Aurora (which we unhesitatingly 
endorse) we would say to our delegates, who will 
shortly leave for the Convention, if they intend to 
furnish us with barren addresses merely, they had 
better stay at home. "®^ 

Such utterances as these led several of the Whig 
delegates who had been chosen to the Convention, 
especially in Georgia, to decline to attend on the 
ground that the movement had not the support of 
the people as shown by the small vote cast, and 
because they were opposed to anything looking 
toward disunion.®^ ''They saw," said the Southron, 
"that South Carolina and portions of the loco foco 
party in other states were determined to press the 
consideration at the Nashville Convention the pro- 
priety of the treasonable project of disunion."^ 
Some of the Whigs, however, decided to attend to 
prevent extreme measures. William M. Murphy, 
one of the delegates at large from Alabama, published 
an open letter stating his reasons. "It is said that 
the object of the Convention is to dissolve the Union; 
if this be true no earthly power should prevent my 
attendance — to prevent that awful calamity."®^ 

Chief Justice Sharkey and the Mississippi Whigs, 
however, attended, and the former both before the 
Convention met, ^^ and in his speech from the Presi- 
dent's chair in that body, denied that the object of 
the originators of the movement was to dissolve the 
Union but to obtain relief from the "violations of 
the Constitution which the North had made." 

'^National Intelligencer, March 10, 1850. 

**National Intelligencer, June 1850. Especially letter of Ex-Representative Jaa. A 
Meriweathcr of Georgia. Augusta Chronicle quoted in National Intelligencer, May 
7, 1850. Savannah Republican, quoted in Philadelphia Public Ledger, April 2, 1850. 

"Jackson Southron, May 31. 


"The Convention had not been called to prevent, 
but to perpetuate union. "^^ 

As we have seen, Calhoun was largely responsible 
for the assembling of the Southern Convention, and 
it is apparent that he had hoped to guide its pro- 
ceedings. Indeed he had suggested, as late as the 
middle of February, that "at least two members 
from each of the delegations should visit Washington 
on their way to Nashville, in order to consult fully 
with the members from the South that are true to 
her. "^^ Had he lived doubtless he would have 
exercised great influence in directing its work.™ 
From his correspondence of the last few months of 
his life, as well as from articles in papers inspired by 
him, we are able to form an excellent idea of what 
he hoped the Convention would accomplish. In a 
letter to the editor of his organ the South Carolinian, 
Calhoun wrote early in the winter that "the great 
object of the Convention is to make a solemn state- 
ment of the wrongs of the South and to appeal to the 
North to desist. Further, in case the latter should 
refuse to alter its course, to devise some means of 
action. "^^ It is probable that he intended the 
Convention to embody in its demands the indis- 
pensable guarantees that he had presented in his 
last speech in Congress. This was the view taken 
by Senator Foote, who the day following the pre- 
sentation of Calhoun's speech protested in the Senate 
against the demand for amendments to the Constitu- 
tion as a sine qua non on the part of the South. 
Calhoun immediately replied disclaiming having said 
anything about a sine qua non but added, "I will 

"Montgomery Alabama Journal, May 22. 

"Letter of April 4 in National Intelligencer, April 27. Senator Foote in a speech 
February 14, 1850, stated a similar view. Cong. Globe. 31 Cong. 1 Sess., I, 369. 

•Weu) York Tribune, June 24, 1850. 

'^Correspondence, 782. 

'"Hammond wrote him March 5, 1850, "You must be there with your full power." 
Correspondence, 1212. 

i^South Carolina Triweekly, May 25, 1850. 


say— and I say it boldly— for I am not afraid to say 
the truth on any question, that as things now stand, 
the Southern States can not with safety remain in 
the Union. "72 

In his last letter, dated March 10, Calhoun wrote, 
"Nothing short of the terms I propose can settle it 
finally and permanently. Indeed it is difficult to 
see how two peoples so different and hostile can 
exist together in one common Union. "^^ Judge 
Beverly Tucker of Virginia, an ardent secessionist, 
evidently believed that Calhoun had at last made 
up his mind that secession was inevitable. On 
March 25, 1850, he wrote his nephew, ''That the 
action of South Carolina will be determined is abso- 
lutely sure. She has been held in check by Calhoun 
for seventeen years. Seeing now no room between 
him and the grave for any ambitious career, he for 
the first time looks on the subject with a single eye, 
and his late speech does but give utterance to what 
has been in his mind and in the mind of every man in 
that State during this time."^^ 

''^Congressional Globe, 31 Cong., 1 Sess., I, 462-463. In December, 1851, Foote stated 
in a speech that " I am now perfectly certain that it was the intention of himself (Calhoun) 
and a few others closely associated with him to wield, as far as they might find it in their 
power to do so, all the machinery of the Nashville Convention for the purpose of setting 
up demands in favor of the Southern States alike unjust and unreasonable in themselves 
— a compliance with which they could not have confidently expected. I entertain no 
doubt also, at this time that he contemplated the breaking up of the Confederacy as 
more than a probable event, and one to which he began to look forward with a good deal 
of eagerness." Cong. Globe, 32 Cong., 1 sess. Appendix, 51. For Rhetts denial see 
Ibid, 61. 

The correspondence of Judge Beverly Tucker of Virginia to Ex-Governor Jas. H. 
Hammond of South Carolina, both of whom were delegates to the Nashville Convention, 
during the spring of 1850, shows that there were those who wished to use the Convention, 
to force secession. Tucker desired that demands should be made on the North that 
should be so extreme that they would not be accepted. See Tucker's letters of January 
27, February 8, 1850, in Jas. H. Hammond Manuscripts, Vol. 17, Library of Congress. 

''^Correspondence, 784. 

''^William and Mary Quarterly, XVIII, 44-46. Tucker wrote Ex-Governor Hammond 
May 7, 1850, Calhoun "died nobly, and his last act redeems all the errors of his life 
.... I have heard of those who rejoiced in his death as providential. I hope it may 
prove so, but not in the way intended by them. They considered him as the moving 
cause of excitement in South CaroUna. You and I know that he restrained it and re- 
strained himself. When he went home in March 1833, he was prepared to say all that 
he said in his last speech and much more, had others been prepared to hear it. I know 
it from his own lips." Hammond Manuscript, Vol. 17. 


It would seem that Calhoun was now almost 
convinced that secession was a necessary measure, 
but apparently hoped to the last for the preservation 
of the Union on the terms he had proposed. A few 
days before his death he dictated an incomplete 
draft of certain resolutions on the territorial question 
then at issue. ^^ These were directed chiefly against 
the admission of California under the proposed 
constitution. It characterized the suggested action 
as more objectionable than the Wilmot Proviso 
because ''it would effect indirectly and surreptitiously 
what the proviso proposes to effect openly and 
directly. "^^ The series concluded as follows: — ''Re- 
solved, "That the time has arrived when the said 
Southern States owe it to themselves and the other 
States comprising the Union, to settle fully and 
forever all the questions at issue." Calhoun may 
have intended this draft for use in the Senate or more 
probably for the Nashville Convention, but they do 
not seem to have influenced the text of the resolutions 
adopted by the latter body." His death, occuring 
two months prior to its meeting left the shaping of 
the course of the Convention to other and less skilful 

Owing to the developments in Congress, the move- 
ment for the Convention lost importance and support 
in the South, and the assembling of its members on 
the 3rd of June aroused little interest in the North 
as its action had been discounted. Representatives 
from nine states were present. The body being 
composed of seventy-five members from eight states, 
and one hundred from Tennessee. The Convention 
was organized with the choice of Judge Sharkey as 
President. He made a pacific speech, but it probably 

" Correspondence, 785-787. 

"A similar view in his letter of January 4, 1850, Calhoun, Correspondence, 779-780, 

"Joseph A. Scoville, wrote James H. Hammond, April 18, 1850, as follows: — "Mr. 

Calhoun commenced dictating some resolutions a few days before he died — he did not 

finish them, whether he intended them for the Senate or for Nashville, I never knew. " 

Hammond Manuscript, Vol. 17. 


did not express the attitude of the majority of the 
delegates. A Committee on Resolutions consisting 
of two from each state reported a series of resolutions 
based on those presented by John A. Campbell of 
Alabama, afterward Justice of the Supreme Court 
of the United States, which were adopted unanimously 
on a vote by states. These were rather moderate 
in character. In fact Colquitt of Georgia character- 
ized them as "tame." The resolutions condemned 
the Wilmot Proviso and the other proposed hostile 
measures, omitting all mention of the admission of 
California. They demanded the extension of the 
Missouri Compromise line to the Pacific. This was 
pronounced '^as an extreme concession" and soon 
came to be regarded as the ultimatum of the Conven- 
tion. They declined ''to discuss the methods suitable 
for resistance to measures not yet adopted, which 
might involve a dishonor to the South," and voted 
to re-convene six weeks after the adjournment of 
Congress, in case it failed to comply with its de- 
mands. '^^ 

An address to the people of the Southern States, 
prepared by R. Barnwell Rhett of South Carolina, 
was also reported and aroused much discussion. 
It was far more radical than the resolutions, com- 
prising the ''choicest specimens of disunion tenets," 
as one of the southern Whig papers remarked. '^^ 
The Southron declared that neither Calhoun, Hayne 
nor McDuffie, "even in the palmiest days of ultra 
nullification, ever conceived anything to surpass it. "^° 
The address denounced expressly the Compromise 

"i^Journal of Proceedings of the Southern Convention, 3-8. See S. L. Sioussat, Ten- 
nessee, The Compromise of 1850 and the Nashville Convention, in the Mississippi 
Valley Historical Review, II, 330-340, 343-346, for excellent account of the proceedings 
of the two sessions of the Convention. T. D. Herndon, The Nashville Convention of 
1850, in Alabama Historical Society, Transactions V, 216-233. Cleo. Hearon, Missis- 
sippi and The Compromise of 1850, in Publications of Mississippi Historical Society, 
XIV, ch. VI. Farrar Newberry, The Nashville Convention and Southern Sentiment 
of 1850, South Atlantic Quarterly, XI, 259-273. 

''*Southron, June 28. 

*«Southron, June 28. 


measures pending in Congress and expressed the 
belief that sooner or later disunion must come. An 
earnest attempt was made by the Whigs and a few 
conservative Democrats to strike out this section, 
and especially the statement in the address that it 
would be unconstitutional to admit California. A 
number of strong speeches were made in opposition 
to this portion of the address. Beverly Tucker, 
Professor of Law in the College of William and Mary, 
however, made a fiery speech in favor of secession. ^^ 
The address was carried by a unanimous vote by 
states, but on motion the votes of each member were 
recorded, and from that it appeared that the Whigs 
were opposed, while most of the Democrats supported 
it.^^ After a session of nine days, the first session of 
the Convention adjourned on June 12th. The North 
by this time, refused to take the Convention seriously. 
A Philadelphia paper declared, "the prospect is that 
the members have each made good an excellent claim 
to ridicule for life. "^^ The South, however, regarded 
it quite differently. The Whigs generally repudiated 
it, agreeing with The Republican Banner and Nash- 
ville Whig that the spirit of the Convention and the 
propositions discussed savor so strongly of disunion 
that every friend of the Republic must feel that its 
perpetuity is threatened. "^^ On the other hand, the 
Democrats and Democratic press praised its work 
and influence. 

We are convinced that a careful study of the 
Southern Convention movement must lead to the 
conclusion that it was of much greater importance 
and a more serious menace to the Union than has 
been generally recognized by many historians. Mr. 

^^Remarks of Beverly Tucker, Southern Convention, 16 pages, n. d. Copy in Virginia 
State Library. 

^'Republican Banner and Nashville Whig, June 12, 13, 14, 15. This paper said July 4, 
"only some dozen or fifteen Whigs to some eighty Democrats." 

^North American, quoted by National Intelligencer, June 20. 

"June 17. 


Rhodes states that "the Nashville Convention de- 
serves mention more from the hopes and fears it 
had excited than from its active or enduring effects.^^ 
While this is true, it is also true, as he points out in 
another passage ''that had the Wilmot Proviso 
passed Congress, or had slavery been abolished in 
the District of Columbia, the Southern Convention 
would have been a very different affair, 
from the one that actually assembled at Nashville."^' 
This, it is believed, is apparent from the facts that 
have been presented. The South, it is clear, would 
have been united without distinction of party 
against any such measures. Their various legislative 
resolutions against the Wilmot Proviso, for example, 
were not mere gasconade, but represented a deep- 
seated spirit of resistance that undoubtedly would 
have led to bold and concerted measures to disrupt 
the Union and to the formation of a Southern Con- 
federacv. But this movement, for the time being, 
was checked by the passage of the Compromise 

While it is undoubtedly true that the project for a 
Southern Convention and the threat of secession was 
largely a movement of the politicians rather than one 
emanating from the people, it is equally true that 
the Compromise of 1850 was the work of pohticians, 
which was soon to be rejected by the people of both 
sections. Even at the adjournment of Congress it 
was not certain that the lower South would accept 
the Compromise. The Nashville Convention, less 
representative than when it met in June, convened 
for a second session from November 11 to 19, 1850. 
All the delegates who accepted the Compromise 
measures were absent. The extremists being in 
control, after a series of disunion speeches had been 
dehvered, adopted a set of radical resolutions. These 
formally affirmed the right of secession, denounced 

f^Hxstory of the United States, I, 174. 
»/6»d, I, 135. 


the recent Compromise Acts of Congress, and recom- 
mended a general Congress or Convention of the 
slave-holding states ''with a view and intention of 
arresting further aggression, and if possible of 
restoring the constitutional rights of the South and 
if not, to provide for their safety and independence. "*^ 
But what was more alarming was the very definite 
movement for immediate secession in the four states 
of Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, 
which was with difficulty temporarily checked,*^ 
but not before the agitation had familiarized the 
people of the South with this remedy for their griev- 
ances and strengthened their belief in secession as a 
constitutional right, thus preparing the way for its 
adoption a decade later, when the process of the 
sectionalization of the country had been completed. 

s^Cluskey, PoUlical Text Book, (2 Ed.) 696-598. 

ssArthur C. Cole, The South and the Right of Secession in the Early Fifties, Miss- 
issippi Valley Historical Review, I, 376-399; Cole, The Whig Party in the South, ch. 
VI; Cleo Hearon, Mississippi and Compromise, ch. VIII-XII; U. B. Phillips, Georgia 
and Stale Rights, 161-170. Philip M. Hamer, The Session Movement in South Caro- 
lina. 1848-1852. (Univ. of Penn. Ph. D. thesis, June, 1918.) 

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